Bijou Movie Theater is a beacon of interest for new owner

BEACH - There's no business like show business for Emanuel Culman. The England native who followed the stars of the silver screen from his hometown of Yorkshire to Los Angeles has found a new home here. As of last Friday, Culman is the enthusiast...

BEACH - There's no business like show business for Emanuel Culman.

The England native who followed the stars of the silver screen from his hometown of Yorkshire to Los Angeles has found a new home here.

As of last Friday, Culman is the enthusiastic owner of the Bijou Movie Theater, which he hopes to reopen by this March.

The road to this latest life experience for Culman is a winding and adventurous one. From working in live theater in England to co-producing a television show with his wife, Cheryl, in L.A., Culman is up to the challenge and looking to make his mark in the region.

"I feel the Bijou stands distinct and alone in a needy environment to become a beacon of interest and revenues for tourist dollars," Culman said. "It could also provide a wide selection of product to entertain and educate."


Culman said he wants to make the theater and city of Beach proud with what he has in store for it, but he has plenty of work ahead of him.

The back story

In L.A., Culman also wrote theater articles for different publications. Writing is important to him and he is in the midst of rewriting a novel and screenplay based on the novel.

After many years of L.A. life, Culman and his wife set out to see what their next move would be. Both have traveled extensively around the globe.

"I've always had a sense of my own abilities," Culman said. "I wasn't achieving everything I could in L.A."

With so many choices, they opted for some helpful guidance from a friend who is an astrologer.

"She looked at our birth charts to see where would be best for us. Couples rarely have a place in common anywhere on the earth," Culman said. "My sun sign lines up with Velva and mercury sign lines up with Fort Peck. Anywhere between these areas, along the 48th parallel would be good."

After finding out more about the area, the couple toured the western half of the state in the summer of 2005. Culman lived in New Town for a year reworking his novel. While there, he discovered something else which struck his fancy.


"I became interested in small community theaters," he said. "It wasn't possible in New Town so I checked in other places, but it was while looking for real estate in Dickinson when we picked up The Press and saw the story about the Bijou closing."

Their realtor put them in touch with former owner Margaret Walz, as the Bijou has been in her family since the 1930s. Her father and uncle first owned it and then Walz inherited it and ran it with her family. At age 74, Walz was unable to keep it going and closed the theater last summer.

"When she gave us the tour of the place, it was love at first sight," Culman said. "We haggled on the price, but I'm not ready at this time to go into what it cost and how much repairs are going to be."

Just the beginning

He made an offer in September 2006 which was received quickly and was ready to close the deal by October, but not being a financier, Culman decided to look into what the entire endeavor would entail.

Speaking with the Beach City Council, other small business owners and those he met in Dickinson involved with the Rural Economic Area Partnership (REAP) and the Roosevelt-Custer Regional Council (R-CRC), Culman realized there was more to it than just a payment process.

He got involved with the Renaissance Zone project and listed the restorations needed for the theater, which included putting in a new air conditioning system, new roof, electrical and sound system, plumbing and more.

After three months of this, Culman realized he was getting farther and farther away from his optimal goal - "to play movies and theatrical events," he said. "I wasn't interested in doing high finance work or being pressured to supervise construction. I will do the upgrades over time."


Using his own capital and not involving himself with financial organizations, Culman signed the papers Friday, Feb. 2.

"It will be a slower process with construction, but the community wants a theater and I want a theater, so let's open it up," he said. "As I get acclimatized to the process, necessary changes will get done."

The editing process

The first changes to be done before the tentative March reopening is constructing a stage for theatrical events and activities, along with installing a handicap accessible restroom.

Culman's experience with live theater and the cinema are special to him and he wants to incorporate both into the theater.

"I love live material and to have the combination of that and movies is exciting for me," Culman said. "I hope to build the stage quickly."

The stage would be 400 feet and used for visiting and local artists. He is not modeling the stage after any others, just what fits best in the space.

He would not rent the space out, but most likely make arrangements in one to two night increments depending on the situation.


Culman's objective is to put on live performances, but also make it available for presentations, meetings and lectures.

Part of creating the stage area is installing a light and sound booth in the gallery area where one of two private viewing rooms sit on either side of the projection room.

Culman is meeting with Beach Mayor Walter Losinski, who also operates K-Hook Disc Jockey services, on electrical equipment.

To generate out-of-state interest to use the stage and theater, Culman will use his contacts in L.A. and other places.

"I will have them recommend us as a stop on the way to other engagements," Culman said. "It will most likely be around the summer season, but sporadic at first."

Culman has various programming and scheduling ideas for the movies and live performances. He hopes to run second- or third-run movies, but eventually will bring other films such as documentaries, classic cinema and specialty movies.

"I could run Western movies on Sunday," he said as an example.

He is hoping to eventually change around the foyer area.


"I want people to feel invited when they come in," Culman added.

The theater is built into an office building and with his purchase of the property, Culman also owns offices surrounding the theater.

"With the office building, I would like to put in a gift shop with local and regional items for sale so people can consider other areas to visit in the state," Culman said. "I'm also thinking of putting in a counter across from the auditorium to sell things related to a movie playing or a guest artist performing such as their CDs, movie posters or books available."

Repairs are what will keep Culman busy with the old theater first, but he doesn't mind. There are some oldies but goodies in the building he wants to definitely keep.

"There are some lovely touches here like the light fixtures hanging in the foyer and the old popcorn machine," Culman said. "It's an old theater, but there's a charm to it."

With some ceiling panels on their last leg to repair, painting to be done, carpeting to put in and more, Culman is ready to get started.

Culman wants to convert the former smoking room into a dining skybox. For a little extra money people can sit and eat meals while watching the movie.

The projectors in the theater are at least 50 years old, if not more, and are made of their original metal parts, Culman said.


New projectors have plastic parts which need to be replaced every year, but Culman is not sure if he will replace the old, metal with new, plastic projectors. The old projectors still work.

"It's not cheaper to keep the old, metal projectors, but I don't know if it would be better because there's good and bad things to old equipment," he said. "I'm also going to put in auxiliary speakers on either side of the screen to boost the sound quality and have more control over it."

A third possible change is a new name for the theater. Culman is considering changing it and would like to get input from the community about a new name.

Community involvement

A key part in getting the theater going for Culman is having the community of Beach involved from start to finish.

"I want to give community tours to show people what's needed and generate help and interest in it," Culman said. "I would like to eventually set up a kind of mentor program with the local schools and youth, showing them how theater works and perhaps finding people interested in helping me there part time so I can get more into the management aspects."

Culman regards Beach as a western gateway to the state and would like to build on that with the theater. Meetings with city and county officials have been informational and beneficial for Culman.

"I've also visited with other movie theater owners in the region from Watford City to all the surrounding counties," Culman said. "People in similar situations talked to me about prices and repairs."

Culman attended the recent Southwest North Dakota Tourism Conference and met many in the region who are excited to hear about his undertaking.

Possible future collaborations with Dickinson State University (DSU) and the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation (TRMF) came out of Culman meeting with DSU President Dr. Lee Vickers and TRMF Public Relations Director Wade Westin.

"Dr. Vickers is excited about helping out," Culman said. "I offered the theater as a possible place where students could perform during the summer, three nights a week for three months."

Culman also spoke with Westin about the theater used by the Medora Musical personnel. Culman is not worried about competing with their live theater.

"It's more about wanting people to stay in the area a little longer and offering additional entertainment," he said. "People stop there specifically for the musical while ours would be different."

The five-year plan for Culman is to create a television and motion picture production company here specializing in North Dakota and its locale, as well as an acting company. He hopes to get theatrical performances going this summer, but will see how it goes.

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